Current trends in the global social and political context

People often struggle to understand how their active participation in society can have an impact. They are increasingly rejecting traditional forms of democratic involvement (e.g. political parties, or voting) and look for new spaces to participate in public life and policy-making. These developments are intertwined and exacerbated by a number of general trends: – Governments failing or lacking capacity to take responsibility to ensure people are able to fully engage in public life and participate in decisions that affect them; restrictive legal frameworks that are negatively affecting space for civil society and free media – Decreasing levels of trust in traditional political institutions (e.g. parliament, judiciary, election processes) – Nationalist, populist and xenophobic rhetoric that used to be taboo are increasingly tolerated by the public – A culture of violence, impunity and fear in many contexts – High numbers of complex protracted crises resulting in unprecedented population movements All of the above trends have contributed to a weakening of social cohesion and respect for, and protection of, human rights alongside growing inequity and exclusion in many parts of the world.

Main concepts

Empowerment refers to the process of individual behaviour change, enabling someone to move from being a passive to an active citizen. This can happen through different forms of learning. Human rights education promotes values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others. It develops an understanding of everyone’s common responsibility to make human rights a reality in each community (OHCHR). It is the learning and practice of human rights as well as the promotion of a universal respect for, and observance of, all human rights. Rightsholders need to know their rights and possess the attitudes and skills to claim them, while duty-bearers need to know their human rights obligations.

Civic participation implies connecting all segments of the population to the social and political processes that affect them. This necessitates the existence of public spaces where different groups can express dissenting opinions and personal interests, and where these viewpoints are treated as serious input in the decision-making process . . Citizenship education is a means to empower individuals to be active citizens and hence participate in democratic life at national and local level. Civic education takes place at all stages of life and in many venues other than schools  Civic education is a term often used interchangeably with citizenship education but can indicate a greater focus on the civic structure of governments and organisations and less on the practice of citizenship.

Good citizenship/civic education depends on the teaching methodology.

In citizenship education the goal is to support learners to be citizens who: 1) know their rights and responsibilities and have understood how their political system functions and how they can engage in it (learning “about” human rights and political participation); 2) have experienced school as a micro-society that respects the freedoms and equality of its students, and have been trained in exercising their rights and responsibilities and respecting the rights of others (learning “through” human rights and political participation); 3) are therefore competent and confident to exercise their rights and responsibilities, with a mature sense of responsibility towards others and their community (learning “for” human rights and political participation). Formal, non-formal, informal Learning in general is not just focused on learning in schools. It is a combination of formal, non-formal and informal education. What is the difference? Educational systems exist to promote formal learning, which follows a syllabus while non-formal learning takes place outside formal learning environments but within some kind of organisational framework. Informal learning takes place through the learner’s involvement in activities that are not undertaken with a learning purpose in mind. Formal education: This includes curricula-based work, in schools, colleges or universities. It may be supported through teacher training programmes or curriculum development interventions. This can take a ‘learning about’ approach (information on state or constitutional structures, or the history of human rights) or a ‘learning for’ approach (developing the skills and attitudes to participate meaningfully in society and work for equality, usually delivered through some form of experiential learning). Service learning, common in some education programmes can involve students working for civil society or community organisations and reflecting on what this teaches them about themselves, their values and the contribution they want to make.  Example: SDC works with teacher training colleges in Afghanistan to improve the overall quality of teaching as well as subject specific expertise, including through human rights and gender courses.

Non-formal education: These are learning programmes organised outside the formal school education sector. They include literacy (which often use the language of individual or economic empowerment), courses in social cohesion and peacebuilding, (particularly in post-conflict areas integrating former combatants) or citizenship programmes for newcomers/migrants (which may be implemented around language learning programmes).  Example: SDC has civil society strengthening programmes in Nicaragua teaching particularly marginalised groups, such as women or minority ethnic groups about their rights and how to exert them through a programme of non-formal group classes. Informal education: This involves working with broader forms of information sharing, either to counteract negative messages (of individual consumerism, or racist or intolerant ideas) spread via the media or through extremist groups, and providing space for awareness raising, advocacy or activism around sustainable development or civic responsibility in working for stronger and more transparent governance.  Example: SDC has projects in Haiti which provide capacity building support to political institutions to ensure the participation of women in decision making; and in Benin, an anti-corruption programme works to increase citizens’ awareness of their rights as well as to strengthen the accountability of power holders and the transparency and honesty of the media